Tahiti and her islands are located in the South Pacific, approximately 17,000 km away from France, 8,000 km from Australia and USA, and 9,600 km from Japan.
Tahiti’s 118 fabulous islands are scattered across five far-flung archipelagos.
The Society Islands is a group of high tropical islands encircled by coral reefs and lagoons, comprising of Windward Islands and Leeward Islands. The main one is Tahiti, the largest of the Polynesian islands, with Papeete as its administrative capital. This group also includes Moorea, the magical island separated from her sister island Tahiti by only a 17 km channel, Huahine, the garden of Eden, a wild island situated 175 km North West of Tahiti which still has a very alive traditional culture, Raiatea and Tahaa, two sacred islands with lush vegetation, enclosed in the same lagoon and offering perfect sailing conditions, the famous Bora Bora, the romantic island with her breath-taking lagoon and beaches fringed with coconut trees, and finally Maupiti, the forgotten island, nestled in a jade lagoon, the smallest, and the most authentic island of the archipelago.
The Tuamotu group is a collection of low islands or atolls, a very special world situated between the sky and the sea. Each island encircles its own lagoon with a ring of coral with crystal clear waters and spectacular underwater gardens and fish of every imaginable size and colour. It rarely rains and makes a perfect environment for pearl farming. Rangiroa, Tikehau, Manihi and Fakarava are the most frequently visited atolls and can provide accommodation.
The Marquesas Fenua Enana or ‘’Land of Men’’, clustered near the equator, are a group of islands with jagged mountain peaks about 1500 km away from Tahiti. The Marquesan coastline is ended in abrupt cliffs, swept by the surf, and consist in stunning natural scenery. Nature runs wild with herds of goats and packs of wild horses and pigs roam in complete freedom. There are no beaches, you need a boat to get from one valley to the next, which makes it very attractive for sailors and adventure seekers. Melville, radiquet, Stevenson and Segalen grasped it and Gauguin and Brel left their spirit there.
Out of 12 islands, just 6 are populated. Nuku Hiva, the mystical island, is grandiose and striking, yet is hard to find adequate words to describe the view of the imposing cliffs as you gaze upon the jagged walls which suddenly plunge into the immense ocean below. The secrets of the island are impenetrable, kept well by lush vegetation covering this mysterious and indescribable ‘’land of men’’, yet so real. From Hakui, the third biggest waterfall in the world, Anaho Bay, one of the most beautiful of the archipelago, or from the Mount Muake, paragliding heaven, the scenery of basaltic peaks and deep canyons will keep you dreaming.
Ua Huka is one of the smallest islands of Marquesas. Home of the ‘’great house’’ of gods overlooking the ocean, this wild and deep universe offers a preserved nature with steep slopes and desert plateaus. Paradise for tropical plants, this exceptional garden and arboretum hosts more than 300 different trees, with the largest collection of citrus trees in the world. Under the abundant green forest you can find the Marquesas’ most ancient archaeological sites.
Ua Pou, the artists’ island, is the most populated and the geologically the most recent island. Basalt summits give the scenery an impressive strength, making it one of the most beautiful and typical of Polynesia. Its sugarloaf peaks overlook the island’s centre and deep valleys. For the archaeological sites lovers, just walk the valley of the Hakamoui kings.
Hiva Oa, the garden of Marquesas, is Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel island. Lying nude beside the ocean, the island has no reef and offers her fertile coastline to the deep currents of an unleashed sea in which one can neither see the bottom, nor various coloured shades, nor coral. ‘’In those islands of pure solitude, I have found a sort of peace’’ wrote Jacques Biel who spent his last years in Atuona, on Hiva Oa. A wrinkled land, whose virginal beauty remains untouched by the 21st century. The long and captivating story of the Marquesas can be discovered while strolling the secret valleys between papaya and banana trees.
The Austral archipelago, situated far to the south, is also made up of high islands: Rurutu, Tubuai, Rimatara, Raivavae and Rapa. Those ancient volcanos inhabited islands of the South Pacific are far off the beaten track. Marae (ancient sacred places) and majestic stone tikis that are centuries old make the islands mysterious and intriguing. There is a variety of tropical plants and the climate makes it perfect for gardening, with the Australs being the main vegetable provider for the other islands in Polynesia.
In Rurutu, the ‘’gushing rock’’ in Polynesian language, the main attraction attraction occurs every year from June to October, when the whales meet in the warm, shallow waters. Another attraction consists of the numerous caves sheltered by cliffs, carved by erosion with amazing stalactites and stalagmites, which used to be graves in ancient civilization. The mamas of the island specialise in the art of weaving the fibre of pandanus, handmade hats, carpets and tifaifai, vivid coloured patchwork blankets.
Tubuai, the island of plenty, enjoys a temperate climate, tropical, yet cooler than Tahiti. Two volcanic mountains ranges stand out from the warm waters of the island, which makes it perfect for diving in a paradise of tropical fish, clams and crayfish. In the lagoon, the blues seem colder and the greens sharper under the diaphanous light which highlight the turquoise of this oval-shaped island. The visitors can enjoy magnificent panoramas of sumptuous white sand beaches, gentle slopes, fertile valleys where coffee, taro and orange trees grow.
Raivavae, dawn of the world island, with just under 1000 inhabitants living in pretty pastel coloured houses in 4 villages where life unfolds simply and peacefully, unknown to the agitated world outside. It is one of the most beautiful spots in the South Pacific, with tiny islets etched out against the sky, sea birds nesting and an emerald lagoon
The Gambier archipelago is situated in the far eastern corner of French Polynesia, 1600 km southeast of Tahiti. It consists of 14 small mountainous islands, the largest and most populated being Mangareva. The old volcano and the eroded remains are enclosed in a coral barrier of 90 km. The climate is fresh compared to the other archipelagos and in July the temperature can reach 12ᴏC. There are splendid white beaches and pearl farms on the Gambier islands. Its lagoons are reputable for being the best source of fine quality pearls.
Accommodation can vary from luxurious overwater bungalows in Bora Bora to just a handful of Bed and Breakfast in the Austral and Gambier archipelagos.
One thought on “Tahiti and her islands”